Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Poison, Pt 2 - Common Poisons

In our last round at FightWrite.net, we looked at medical jargon associated with the effects of common poisons, venoms and toxins, which aren't the same thing. If you didn't know that, hop on over to that post and poke around.

I'm going to just touch on a few common poisons. For a longer list, buy my book Fight Write: Writing Battles, Brawls and Bouts. It will be out June 11 but is available for pre-sale. In it I cover some good ole' standby poisons, a few newbies, some poisonous plants, venomous snakes and the most recent poisoning statistics from the National Capital Poison Center. The book doesn't have a cover yet, just so you know. Don't think the cover is the words No Image Available! Also, the title may change. BUT, the good stuff on the inside won't be touched!

Anthrax - Anthrax is not a poison. Did you know that? It is actually an infection caused by the bacteria bacillus anthracis. So, when you hear on the news that a package was delivered containing a white powder identified as anthrax, that's not exactly correct. The powder will cause anthrax. It is not itself anthrax.
   
Bacillus anthracis sets up camp in the lymph nodes of the body. The toxin it creates causes hemorrhaging, edema, a drop in blood pressure and ultimately death.  
  The bacteria which causes anthrax can be delivered via an odorless mist, powder, liquid or paste. It can invade the body through the skin, lungs, injection or ingestion. Symptoms generally appear within a week of exposure. Once symptoms present, death can occur within three days.
  Symptoms of Anthrax:
  Cutaneous exposure - Exposure to the skin results in blisters or itchy bumps. Swelling can occur as well as an ulcer with a black center. It can be pretty gross.
  Inhalation - Once inhaled, the anthrax bacteria can cause fever, chills, confusion, dizziness, cough, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, sweats, exhaustion, and body aches.
  Ingestion - Ingested, anthrax causes fever and chills, swelling of neck or glands in the neck, sore throat, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, headache, stomach pain, fainting and abdominal swelling.
  Injection - Very similar to cutaneous exposure.
 Managed quickly, anthrax can be treated with antibiotics and antitoxin.

Arsenic - Arsenic is odorless, tasteless and gray, white or
silver in color. Symptoms of exposure by inhalation or ingestion can begin in as little as thirty minutes after exposure. Such symptoms include headache, drowsiness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythm, muscle cramps, paresthesia in fingers and toes. Death by arsenic poisoning often includes seizures and shock which lead to coma.

Cyanide - Cyanide comes in several forms. It its colorless, gaseous state it is known as hydrogen cyanide or cyanogen chloride. Its crystalline form is known as sodium cyanide or potassium cyanide. It is sometimes described as having a bitter almond smell which is not always detectable. The taste also have been described as acrid and burns the tongue.
  Cyanide makes the body unable to utilize oxygen. And, a little goes a long way. A person who weights 160lbs (73kg) who ingests .5 grams of potassium cyanide has a 90% mortality rate. That is about 1/3 tsp. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include weakness, confusion, extreme lethargy, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, vomiting, abdominal pain, seizures and coma. It is a completely agonizing way to die. Cyanide poisoning can be treated with a cyanide antidote kit.

Fentanyl - Fentanyl is a opioid analgesic that is almost one hundred times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than heroine. Yes, really. A thirty milligram dose of heroine has the same effect as a three milligram dose of fentanyl. Both of those doses are high enough to kill an adult. The more you read about this drug, the scarier it is. 
   Symptoms of overdose include pinpoint pupils, muscle weakness, dizziness, confusion, extreme sleepiness, loss of consciousness, dangerously slowed heart rate, cessation of breathing and cyanosis of nails and lips. Fentanyl kills by depressing the body so much that the victim ceases to breathe and suffocates.
  The drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is often used to treat an overdose of Fentanyl. Opiate inhibitor drugs such as this bind to opiate receptors in the body to inhibit, revers or block the effects of the opiates. The need for opiate inhibitors has become so widespread they are often carried by paramedics. 

Ricin - If you are a fan of Breaking Bad you have heard of ricin. The main character, chemist Walter White, used it twice because he said that it was difficult to detect in the body. He was right. The writers of Breaking Bad always did their homework!
  According to the CDC, there are no specific clinically validated assays for detection of ricin that can be performed by hospitals laboratories. There are no methods available for the detection of ricin in bodily fluids. Potential tests would be used more for confirmation of the presence of ricin rather than a diagnosis of it. In other words, you have to go looking for it specifically. It is identified in an autopsy through DNA amplification or antibodies essay.
  Ricin works by invading cells and inhibiting them from creating the protein they need to survive. Depending on the type and level of exposure, death can occur within three days. Ricin can be inhaled or inhaled. It will not absorb in the skin. However, if on the skin it can be transferred to the eyes or mouth.
    Symptoms of ricin inhalation include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea, tightness in chest, sweating, pulmonary edema, cyanosis, low blood pressure and, finally, respiratory distress.
   Ingestion of ricin can cause vomiting and diarrhea both of which would likely be bloody. (Mercy!) Blood could also be in the urine and seizure and organ failure could occur.

Ok, one more. This post is getting too long!

Strychnine - Strychnine is a favored poison in classic literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and H. G. Wells all utilized it in their work. Norman Bates also used it to kill his mother in the move Psycho. If you've not seen that movie, sorry to spoil it for you.  
   Death by strychnine is dramatic and as the first symptoms
manifest, the victim is conscious and aware that something is going very wrong. Symptoms can begin in as little as fifteen minutes and include agitation, fear, restlessness, painful muscle spasms, uncontrollable arching of neck and back, rigid arms and legs, tightness in jaw and difficulty breathing. Death by strychnine is generally due to brain damage, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.

In our last round, Poison, Pt 1, we looked at the best poisoning scene ever in The Princess Bride. First, sorry to say, but iocane poison ain't a thing. And, as well, building up an immunity to a poison ain't a thing either. Just ask one of my favorite nerds, Kyle Hill.



In our next round, we will look at a few poisonous plants and venomous critters. Until then, get blood on your pages!






Thursday, September 6, 2018

Poison, Pt 1, Medical Jargon


In the post, How Women Kill, we saw that women are sixtimes more likely than a man to kill with poison, not Poison, the 80s hair band featured here. I had to post that pic. How could I not? Look at them! They're like something aliens would keep as pets! Aaah, the 80s.

But, I digress. As often as poison is used to incapacitate folks in literature and real life, I thought we should discuss it a bit. We will look at some of the most common poisons, toxins and venoms and what they do to the human body. For the purposes of this post, I will sum them all up with the word, "poison."

Before we jump too deep here, let's look at a few medical terms that are often encountered when examining and writing about the symptoms and treatment of poisoning.  I ran into these words during my research and you might as well. Remember, using technical terms in your work can take your reader out of the story. Be sure that you show the definition of whatever medical jargon you use. Don't kill your reader with "jargon-monoxide" poisoning. :) I didn't make that phrase up. I wish I had!

Ok, here we go:

Toxins vs Poisons vs Venoms - We sometimes use these words interchangeably but they are not the same. A toxin is a biologically produced chemical that produces an immune response in the body. Both poisons and venoms can be toxic but poisons and venoms differ from each other. Poison is secreted by animals such as poison frogs. A venom is injected by an animal. The site WideOpenPets.com describes it best: if you bite it and you die, it's poison. If it bites you and you die, it's venom.

Antibody - An antibody is a blood protein produced in response to a foreign or toxic substance in the body.

Antitoxin - An antibody used to counteract the effects of a toxin/poison.

Antivenin - Fist of all, did you know it's "antivenin" and not "antivenom?" The latter is actually two words: anti venom. Antivenin is a blood serum containing antibodies that counteract the poison/toxin delivered by animal life such as spiders, scorpions and snakes.

Arthralgia - Pain in the joints is arthralgia.

Blood poisoning - This is not actually poisoning. Don't confuse it with such. Septicemia aka blood poisoning occurs when bacterial infection from elsewhere in the body enters the blood stream. You can't poison a character and give them blood poisoning.

Bradycardia - A slow heart beat is bradycardia. If it happens a bunch of times it is bradybunchcardia. ;)  

Charcoal - When poison is ingested, the protocol of care may be putting activated charcoal in the stomach. The charcoal absorbs liquid contents of the stomach.

Cutaneous - Cutaneous relates to the skin.

Cyanosis - Like the color cyan, cyanosis refers to a bluish color in the skin. It is a result of low oxygen levels in the blood.

Diplopia - Diplopia is blurred vision not a type of dinosaur, which is totally what I thought it was. So help me, I saw one in Jurassic Park!

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation - This is a condition in which small clots of blood form in the bloodstream. I don't know about y'all, but the word "clot" just grosses me out.

Emetic - Something that makes you vomit is an emetic. On that note, nauseated is a verb. Nauseas is an adjective. For example, the thought of watching Mama Mia nauseates me. (Sorry, it's true.) If I watch it, I am sure to become nauseas. (For the record, I love ABBA.)

Encephalopathy - A disease in which a function of the brain is compromised by an agent or condition like a viral infection or toxin.

Gastric Lavage - Pumping out the contents of the stomach is knowns as gastric lavage. Sounds like a fancy treatment at a holistic spa. But if one is offered to you, do not add it to your spa experience!

Heart Arrhythmia - Any irregularity in heart beat is considered arrhythmia. Symptoms include fluttering in the chest, racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, perspiration, faintness or fainting.

Hypotension - Low blood pressure is hypotension.

Hypertension - High blood pressure is hypertension.

Intubation - Insertion of a tube in the body to aid in breathing is intubation.

Metabolic Acidosis / Acidemia - When the body becomes too acidic, acidemia occurs. Symptoms include confusion, headache, sleepiness, loss of consciousness, coma, shortness of breath, coughing, muscular weakness, seizures, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. 

Myalgia - This is a fancy word for muscle pain. It also sounds like something a doctor would say while swearing. "Oh yeah? Well, you can kiss myalgia!"

Myoclonus - Spasmodic and jerky contractions of muscle groups are known as myoclonus.

Opioid - Because opioid use / abuse is more prevalent, and I will be including fentanyl in another post, I wanted to explain exactly what an opioid does. An opioid is analgesic (pain reliever) that binds one or more opioid receptors in the brain. They block pain, slow breathing, calm the person in pain and act as an anti-depressant. The body produces a natural type of opiate on its own. However, it does not produce enough to combat chronic pain. Nor does it produce an amount that causes addiction. Prescription opiates are incredibly addictive. You brain actually learns to want synthetic opiates.

Paresthesia - This is a tingling, pin and needles sensation caused by damage to peripheral nerves. It's kind of like the feeling you get when your hand or foot falls asleep.

Pulmonary Edema - Fluid in the lungs in pulmonary edema.

Syncope - A temporary loss of consciousness caused by a sudden fall in blood pressure is syncope. It is also a word that sounds like "sink of pee," which reminds me of the time one of my very young children peed in the bathroom sink as an April Fool's joke. And, they did so in May. Their thinking was that it was an even bigger April Fool's joke since it happened long after you'd expect it. 

Tachycardia - A racing heart beat is tachycardia.

Toxicology - The branch of science concerned with the nature, detection and effects of poison.

Toxicology Report - Issued in forensic toxicology testing, the toxicology report states what sort of toxin as well as the amount of it was found in a body post mortem.

In our next post, we will look as a few poisons and their effects on the body. Now, I leave you will one of the best poisoning scenes ever. In Poison, Pt 2, we'll look a little closer at this scene and the dreadful iocane powder. Until the next round at FightWrite.net, get blood on your pages! Oh, also, NEVER GO AGAINST A SICILIAN WHEN DEATH IS ON THE LINE! Or dessert. My best friend is a Sicilian. Trust me on the dessert thing.